There hasn’t been an epic fail quite like The Huntsman: Winter’s War (opening today) in quite some time. It’s the supposed prequel to the 2012 film Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the title roles, but this new film is much more of a sequel. The thought is, I’m assuming, that this “prequel/sequel” idea is actually supposed to be some sort of a plot twist, to hide the fact that the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has returned following her defeat at the hands of Snow White during the conclusion of the last film. In other words, they want you to think that it’s a prequel going in, only to surprise you with the fact that it’s a sequel once you are sitting in the theater. All of this, of course, implies that the audience gives a hoot about any of this: These characters, this world, this story. We do not.
The result is a campy fantasy-adventure that is as lazy as they come, in terms of story, acting and even production. First off, Snow White is only mentioned but not seen, a win for Kristen Stewart and her agents who avoided this dud like a poisonous apple. The story uses the famed “magic mirror” as a sort of McGuffin used to drive the supposed plot along. Hemsworth is the star here, playing Eric the Huntsman as a flat, banal and generic super-hero. Even Hemsworth’s one-dimensional Thor is at least given some semblance of a personality. He apparently had a deep love with a childhood warrior friend, Sara (Jessica Chastain), but they were driven apart and (yawn) turned against one another by the evil Queen Freya (Emily Blunt).
Freya is Ravenna’s cold-blooded sister, an Ice Queen, and a clear attempt by the filmmakers to make a cash-grab from an audience enamored with Disney’s Frozen. When Ravenna destroys her life by murdering Freya’s child, Freya turns cold – both literally and figuratively – with the ability to freeze things and shoot ice walls out of her frosty fingertips. The lesson she learns from her tragedy is that love is a bad thing, and that is the shameful and stupid crux of the film: Will love endure? Will love conquer all? Give me a break, people. I wonder.
Apparently Freya summons back to this plane her evil sister, Ravenna (Is she dead? Is she undead? Is she alive? Even the film asks this question but then quickly throws the thought away). But they need that blasted mirror!
Joining Eric in his quest to find it is a group of annoying side characters, the likes of which seem to always populate films like this. Nick Frost and Rob Brydon play two dwarfs who befriend Eric, and they run into two female dwarfs played by Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach. This foursome supplies the comic relief, and the levity that this film had no need for given the silliness found everywhere else.
We first need to ask ourselves: Why? Why does this movie exist? The draw of the first film – Kristen Stewart as Snow White – is left out of this effort, and do people really care about The Huntsman? These are some of the most uninteresting characters ever to populate the screen. This mess was directed by a first-time filmmaker, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, as if the studio cared about the quality of the end product. Nicolas-Troyan, a special effects master in his own right, to his credit has made a nice-looking film – there are some scenes in a magical forest that really pop. But overall this is an under-cooked effort handed over to a first-time chef, and it’s no surprise that it tastes like dreck once it’s served up.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is the prequel/sequel that nobody ever asked for, or wanted. It’s a paint-by-numbers adventure, and we simply deserve better. Of course this movie ends with a hint of a “part three,” and even the narrator seems to understand that this is all nonsense. “The story is over,” he tells us (and I paraphrase). “Unless we don’t want it to be.” Please, makers of this movie, leave our Happily Ever After alone.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (feature-film directorial debut)
Opens locally on Friday, April 22, 2016 (check for show times).